What happens when people use TikTok and Instagram to make travel plans?

According to a new study, almost one in three travelers uses social media for vacation inspiration.

The numbers are even higher for younger travelers. According to an April 2022 report by travel company Arrivia, around 60% of Gen Zs and 40% of Millennials use social media for travel purposes.

On TikTok alone, the hashtag “Travel” has 74.4 billion hits, and around 624 million Instagram posts are also about travel.

But there’s a darker side to social media’s pristine travel photos too. Expectations may not match reality as many photos have been edited to look better than they actually are.

Disappointed travelers are now fighting back, using the very media that misled them. They post their own videos showing what immaculate places look like in real life on social media.

A city from a Disney movie?

A TikTok video inspired 26-year-old Olivia Garcia, a graphic designer and YouTuber from South Florida, to take a one-hour detour from her road trip, she said.

Featuring snow-capped mountains and a town seemingly ripped from the script of a Disney film, the video captured the supposed beauty of Gastonia, a small town in North Carolina. Garcia said she no longer needed convincing to visit them.

The only problem? The images in the video were actually Switzerland.

It was part of a tongue-in-cheek video series on TikTok, in which a user dubbed some of the most beautiful and iconic places in Europe as North Carolina places. In one video, the soaring Milan Cathedral was dubbed “the new Bass Pro stores at Concord Hills Mall near Charlotte”.

“We’re coming into town, and it was just a regular town,” Garcia said. “There were no mountains. It wasn’t like in the video.”

Garcia shot a humorous TikTok video documenting her visit to the city, showing a dirty gas station and run-down buildings, though she noted she was focusing on the “not-so-pretty” areas of Gastonia.

“You’re always like, okay, you see this happens to other people, but it never happens to you — I’m smart enough to know when things are real and when things aren’t real,” she said.

Since her video went viral, Garcia has spoken to the mayor of Gastonia, who has offered to take her on a tour of the city when she returns. She also appeared on The Kelly Clarkson Show to share her experiences.

“Do your research … because you might end up somewhere you don’t want to be,” Garcia said. “[And] don’t believe everything you see on the internet.”

A ‘beautiful, hidden garden pool’

The 30-year-old travel blogger Lena Tuck was also the victim of a glamorous TikTok video.

While driving from Brisbane to Melbourne, Tuck said she made the spur of the moment decision to visit a “beautiful, hidden garden pool” she’d spotted on TikTok — the Yarrangobilly Caves Thermal Pool Walk.

“It looked like this otherworldly place where topless men would feed you grapes or something,” she said.

But on the drive there her phone lost signal – meaning she had no directions to guide her – and she had to drive for 10 minutes on a rough dirt road before walking almost half a mile down a steep hill.

When she got to the pool, she was surprised to find it full of families and screaming children, similar to a public pool, she said.

“I can only think of how many people peed in here,” she said in a TikTok video describing the experience.

“It’s … the total opposite of an Instagram experience, and I think that’s why the whole experience was so fun,” she told CNBC.

She said she thinks people should be spontaneous and open-minded, but cautioned travelers against “doing more research than I probably did.”

Ethereal Waters

Photos of Terme di Saturnia, a group of springs in Tuscany, Italy, show beautiful blue waters gently rising with steam.

But that couldn’t be further from reality, said 28-year-old Ana Mihaljevic.

The freelance project manager and digital marketer said her visit was “strongly influenced” by social media posts that showed an “almost idyllic” setting.

But the water was green, smelled like rotten eggs due to sulfur and was full of visitors posing for photos, presumably for social media, Mihaljevic said.

“It’s definitely not a place to relax,” she added.

Markus Romischer, a 29-year-old travel filmmaker, agreed that social media sources were different. He shot a video tagged “Insta vs. Reality: Europe Edition” showing his disappointment with the Tuscan sources, as well as locations in Switzerland, Madeira and Rome.

When he saw it in real life, he said he could tell online images had been heavily Photoshopped. The sources are “warm, the color was special, but just looking at these social media pics,” the reality is “a little bit sad,” he said.

The early hours are far less crowded, Romischer said. When he arrived at 6 a.m., there were only a few people there — mostly “grandmas” — but the afternoon was a different story, he said.

“At noon, then [many] Buses came from everywhere and it was so crowded,” he said.

Tourist attractions will always be crowded, said Romischer, who shared a tip for avoiding crowds: “Don’t google ‘what to do in Tuscany’ and go to the top spot on the list.”

Like the others fooled by social media images, Mihaljevic advises travelers to do their research.

“If you want to travel without doing any research, that’s fine, but be prepared that not everything will be as you saw online,” she said. “Some places will be even better, but some will disappoint.”

Read more about social media vs. reality

https://www.cnbc.com/2022/04/26/what-happens-when-people-use-tiktok-and-instagram-to-make-travel-plans.html What happens when people use TikTok and Instagram to make travel plans?

Gary B. Graves

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